Posted in 05. Design for learning

Now Everyone CAN Create


When the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) were in Texas for the global institute, we were promised some wonderful resources under the heading #everyonecancreate. And Apple have delivered! The timing could not be better as we face 8 weeks with our year 9 and 10 students before they go off on a well deserved summer break. I am so pleased with the English department at my school because they have all decided to take this project up with their classes. What follows is the strategy I  suggested, which has been fully embraced by another colleague and TiC of year 9, Annie Davis. So together we refined the programme to be used at our school.

Step 1: Download all four books from iTunes: Everyone Can Create project guides and Teacher GuideThese are pretty big downloads so when you get your students to do it, I suggest you get them to download at home.

Step 2: What I did was take my class on a Photo Walk which is one of the activities in the Photo book When they were done, they added their photos to a Padlet and continued with the next activity, which was personalising their photos.. Here is an example of their Padlet:

Made with Padlet


Step 3: Next I gave them a timeline. This gives the students an idea of what they are working towards, and for how long.

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Step 4: They got into groups and started to choose the tasks they wanted to do, based on the matrix. The best way to approach this is to work down each column, as the one activity builds on the next. At this point teachers can step back because each activity (the name of which correlates to the activity in the book) is totally self explanatory. Students can navigate their way forward from here. Annie took our bland doc and turned it into this inviting matrix:

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Step 5: Some teachers like a lot more detail, so this planning sheet is really for those that like a step-by-step approach, but it is by no means the only way!

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Step 6: Teachers will need to give some grades so Annie and I looked at an existing rubric and she adapted it to look like this:

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Step 7: The master plan is to use these skills and key competencies to get them to create a short film under time constraints, which will culminate in a Film Festival. I have blogged about this before, as it’s an idea I got from fellow ADE, Donna Smith. There is more detail about the film festival in this link. And more details for the students in this link.

I really hope that the students enjoy this project and unleash their creativity! #EveryoneCanCreate


Posted in 05. Design for learning, Personal TAI

Take control of your learning

Teaching as Inquiry: 2018

I’ve been mulling over this post for ages. I know my inquiry is linked to improving students’ writing. And I know I want to include increased student agency in my inquiry. In addition. I know that my approach will be based on design thinking. So what is my hunch? This morning, while reading a post by Kath Murdock it struck me. It’s all good and well me being flexible and giving choice. But the students do not believe that they actually have a choice. Therefore they are not owning their learning and in turn developing independence. This quote resonated with what I’ve been thinking:

Having a sense of agency then, is fundamental.  Our well-being depends on it…Teacher’s conversations with children help the children build the bridges between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency.’(Johnston, 2004, p. 30).

Students are so used to being told what to do, and when to do it, that they have not developed that sense of independent thought. My mission, or rather my inquiry, will be to promote students’ flexibility, independence and therefore their agency.


The students that I will base my TAI on are a class that have enjoyed success at school. For their first assessment, the results were: 20 Excellences, 5 Merits and 2 Achieved grades. They work hard, have high standards and meet deadlines. But they struggle to answer the fundamental questions demanded of them by our school’s Ako approach:

Through Ako Orewa, all students will be able to explain:

  • What they are learning and why?
  • What success looks like
  • How well they are doing
  • What their next steps are

The Leadership reworked  the focus for Ako Orewa in such a way that it emphasised student leading their own learning.

My method will be to regularly ask these four questions. I encourage them to peer assess, but if I’m honest, they still would rather I tell them how well they are doing, and what their next steps should be. That does not foster their independence. As Kath Murdock points out:  ‘If children know there is someone standing over them who has all the answers they are less inclined to want to find the answers for themselves.’ 

Through our Orewa Kāhui Ako work I have revisited the Learning Progressions Framework with its seven aspects to writing. This is what should have been covered in writing classes from years 1 through to 10. I shared this with my class as they are busy crafting their creative or formal writing. In my next lesson I will get them to identify these seven aspects in their peer’s work. This will help them with understanding the questions: How well they are doing and What their next steps are. Without relying on me telling them.

I designed this Padlet to help with these two questions: What they are learning and why? and What success looks like. I’ll have the quantitative data after the assessment is graded. But I’m just as interested in the qualitative data gained from asking the four Ako questions. This is something I’ll need to revisit regularly. Until it becomes a habit for the students to do themselves, without me prompting them.

My goal is to empower my students with the competencies required to actively control their learning, as stated in the New Zealand curriculum.


Posted in 05. Design for learning, Applied Practice in Context

Refining my teaching practice

“Reflective practice is challenging, demanding and a trying process.” (Osterman and Kottkamp, 1993) If they had added enjoyable, informative and rewarding, it could have been a definition for the Mind Lab programme. For 32 weeks, you are constantly looking at what you do and reflecting on how you could do it better, with students at the heart of it all. And you come out the other side with, not only greater self-awareness, but also an awareness of the research that underpins our teaching practice. (Criterion 4)

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Source: Image taken from this website

My literature review focused on blended learning and the impact this has on student outcomes. I have long been a strong advocate for the flipped approach to teaching and learning. But week 7 was a game changer. A revelation. An epiphany. I discovered that the classical model of flipping was not the only one. Add in-class flipping and the rotational model of flipping to the mix, and you take away so many hurdles that staff and students put up. I felt free to send students off to view the video, while others surged ahead because they had already done the preliminary work. This led to investigating blended learning more fully. What I found was that much of the research suggests that the online environment and the blended approach enhanced students’ self-efficacy and self-regulation. (Criterion 6) The research component of Mind Lab has enabled me to develop the blended approach more fully.

Working in tandem with the blended approach was Carol Dweck’s concept of Growth Mindset, discussed in week 5. Dweck reasons that, how we feel about things like learning, intelligence and failure, can ultimately impact our performance and success. I hooked into this immediately and discussed it with my classes the next day. I have since incorporated the Growth Mindset into my teaching practice and have Dweck’s posters around my class as a visual reminder. It is incredibly empowering to tell a child that they have the potential to succeed at something they are struggling with. “Not yet” is a simple, yet powerful phrase. Teenagers know that they are not all destined to get excellence for everything all of the time. But if they feel they have some control over the skills they are mastering, it becomes a great enabler. After I complete this stage of my Mind Lab journey, I will continue to foster and nurture the idea of “not yet.” (Criterion 7)

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Source: Image from this website

Then there is the leadership strand. I have discovered that we all have a spectrum of leadership styles to draw on, depending on the situation. But I think one that resonates with me is transformational leadership. The idea of “walk the talk” I particularly like, or leading by doing. As a Community of Learning: Kāhui Ako leader, I have got the opportunity to work with both lower middle school and primary school teachers. Together we have started to look at the possibility of introducing basic coding into their classrooms. My dream future professional development (PD) involves taking this idea beyond the two schools that we have already targeted, to the rest of the community. As an English teacher, I was quite intimidated by the idea of coding which was introduced to us in week 5. But as I dug deeper, I found that there are programmes and apps that are quite user-friendly and can ‘hook’ students pretty quickly. Our students are avid consumers of technology. But it is important for them to become producers too. (Criterion 1)


Technology has a language. It’s called code. Learning to code teaches you how to solve problems and work together in creative ways.”

Even with basic coding, there is no “googling the answer.” To go to the next step, you have to problem solve, and doing it collaboratively helps. With Swift Playgrounds, you have to read and decipher the problem before going on to the logic of solving it. That is why I believe that this PD could potentially tackle the problem of literacy and numeracy, in a fun and interactive way (Criterion 12).

What this journey of reflection has at its core is that the student’s development remains central to all that we do.img_0362


Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved from

Zhonggen, Y., & Guifang, W. (2016). Academic Achievements and Satisfaction of the Clicker-aided Flipped Business English Writing Class. Educational Technology & Society, 19(2), 298-312.

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Mindlab, Reflections

Blogs to improve writing

This is the next video I created to reflect my findings on the digital and collaborative strand in Mindlab, where we had to implement, document and critique a learning innovation applied to a specific area of practice. I looked at the research that suggests that having a personal blog can improve writing. I looked at the work done by David Mitchell (@DeputyMitchell) and his ideas on @QuadBlogging. I also looked at the merits of ‘blogging’ on Facebook as opposed to a dedicated blog site like WordPress.


Mark Twain said that “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” He may have been a novelist, a journalist and even an adventurer. But never a teacher. As a teacher he would know that even getting words on the page for many teenagers is a struggle. Ask students and they would likely tell you that “writing sucks.” So the problem I would like to address is literacy in the form of creative and formal writing for the average teenager. The innovation is weblogs, or more commonly known as blogs. 15 years ago the word blog did not exist and now an estimated 150 million blogs exist.


In our cluster of schools, 16% of students are below or well below the expected writing standard. 19% of our Maori students are below or well below the standard. And 23% of our boys are below or well below the standard. Our schools have identified trends that indicate that there is less success for Maori boys in writing. The aim is that the secondary schools will raise the overall core writing skills for year 9 and 10 in preparation for success at NCEA level 1, 2 and 3. But how? My solution is through social media, in particular a personal blog.


So what makes a blog different and therefore a tool for improving writing? Most of my hesitant writers are not hesitant talkers. And if writing is communicating, as is talking, nothing stops them recording their thoughts in a podcast and popping that onto their blogs. This is the first step to getting students to capture their quality thoughts and convey them to an audience. Obviously we don’t stop there, but you often do need to build trust and confidence initially before you start to make progress. The beauty of a blog is that you can easily add text, photos, video and audio to a post. So if we get our students thinking and reflecting in the form of a video to start off with, then build on that, we are going to make progress with the goal of improving the standard of writing. The next step to building confidence is to comment on their unique ideas and the way they structured their thoughts. Then start talking about how these ideas could form a paragraph of writing.


John Hattie said that “feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement.” In addition, he said that “interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback are needed.”

So feedback, in the ‘comments’ section of their blog, is vital. This includes peer reviews. But first we have conversations about the importance of good digital citizenship and give “comment guidelines.” Peer feedback needs to be both constructive and relevant. Students need to understand the marking criteria in order to give informed feedback. This in itself will raise awareness of good writing practice. What a powerful tool when we get students giving their peers, people of the same age group, feedforward and feedback.


So in theory, maintaining a good blog site should raise the level of writing. Again I ask, how? If this was the case, and given that the majority of students have Facebook which is, after all, a form of a blog, why hasn’t this raised writing skills?


The reason is simple. Facebook pages are owned, run and edited by teenagers. And so they should be. But when blogging is brought into the classroom, the teacher, and later peers, can fill the role of the critic. It means that we can have conversations about content and style. A good blog post has a magnetic headline, like all good media. The post opens with a bang in order to hook the reader in. Persuasive words and good sentences abound. And finally, no one wants to read a post that is simply made up of text. So engaging and authentic images and videos should be encouraged. We don’t have these conversations about Facebook, but maybe we should. And just because we’ve brought blogging into the classroom, it doesn’t mean that fun goes out the window. Part of the beauty of blogging is the audience. There are interactive widgets like “Revolvermap” which tracks your audience. When someone reads your blog, a little flag pops up on the revolving globe and tells you which city they are from. Students get quite excited when they recognise the fact that people, other than their teacher, is reading their work. This is also key to understanding the global audience.


So not only are we raising awareness of good writing, we are discussing what good digital citizenship looks like. In addition, it reminds students that “the internet is a big place. Everyone can see it.”  Kate Friedwald from Wairakei School made a good point: “Writing is no longer just on the classroom wall, it’s not just in their books. It’s out there for the world to see.” Students say that, once they start receiving comments, they feel like people are waiting for them to post more of their writing. This encourages them to write regularly. The global audience can include parents and family, even those that are half way across the world. Instead of the stereotypically mono-syllabic conversations parents have with their teenagers, they could actually be reading about what their children did at school that day.


Audience is key to the success of the writing. It’s one thing to hand a half-baked piece of writing in when only your teacher will see it. But quite different when you realise that you could potentially have a global following. So with all this in mind, the skill of commenting and posting increases the awareness of good writing. Correct punctuation becomes more meaningful. Teenagers become empowered to write. For my generation, you studied journalism, you worked for an editor, you begged a publisher to look at your work. For this generation, they are journalist, editor and publisher rolled into one. My generation knows the silence of censorship. Letters to the editor that contained controversial ideas got ‘lost in the mail.’ Talk back radio hosts simply put the phone down on troublesome callers. But for this generation, their voice can be heard. They are shaping what we read. With social media, we own the printing press. Besides which, it’s free and therefore accessible to all.


So why not allow them to post their writing onto Facebook as opposed to a blog site like WordPress? The reason, just because I deal with teenagers all day doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them at the skate park. Which is what I’d feel like if I was commenting on their Facebook posts. Their personal Facebook page is their domain and I simply don’t belong there. But their WordPress blog is a place where we can hang out together, where we can encourage good writing, which will no doubt have an impact on their other social media activity. At the very least it means that we can have meaningful discussions about what they post on social media.


A prolific blogger, danah boyd (she spells her name in lower case) said that blogging is “a place where my voice sat.” So we need to harness our students’ writing and give them a platform “to think, to process, to understand” and in the process improve their writing. And if they come to a better understanding of the online world in which they are growing up, then they would have received an effective 21st century education.


Writing online makes copyright authentic. At the back of their mind, the blogger is always asking the question: Who will read this post? If we encourage good reflective practice, the teenage voice establishes itself. And that authentic voice is what sets excellent writing apart from mediocre writing.


The impact goes beyond improving writing. The skills my students have acquired is that they can set up a website with categories for a variety of subjects. They can embed videos and understand the rudiments of HTML coding. They are developing the skill of critiquing each other’s work through feedforward and feedback. And we are constantly discussing what a good digital citizen looks like. UK teacher David Mitchell founded QuadBlogging which has now seen over 500,000 students from 55 countries take part. As a group of four schools, each week a different class will be the ‘focus class’ allowing the other three classes to visit and comment on the focus class blog. That’s got to have a positive spin off for writing. In his school he saw that blogging had a dramatic impact on writing standards. Writing scores “rose from 9% to 60% in just 12 months with each child in year 6 making on average double the expected progress for the last three years.” Why would our kiwi kids be any different?


Data suggests that they’re no different. Take my year 10 English class. Looking at a comparison between their English GPA from last year to this year, there has been a general increase for most students, particularly the boys. One boy went from an English GPA of 45% to a whopping 75%. Another went from 37% to 50%, a third climbed from 21% to 50%. That’s overall for English, not just writing. But if we are looking at the impact of tools like blogging, ideas like collaboration and put them together in a positive learning environment, the outcome for the student can be very pleasing indeed. In addition, this GPA is based on a creative writing project which consisted of a number of tasks and culminated in a story written for a teenage audience. So writing made up a huge component of the marks.


Anecdotally I can add that I don’t have the problem from years back when students simply did not submit work. In part I think, because I encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas, it means all get involved. But I do believe that writing on-line beats handwriting for most students. Having poor handwriting or being weak at spelling is no longer a hurdle for students, and is no longer a block for generating a writing piece. It has even been a while since I heard a student say that they didn’t know what to write about. Sites like “Instagrok” are there to counteract writer’s block.


I looked at student feedback where they suggested that posting onto blogs can be challenging if the network slows down. And we all know that if you get a class full of students hitting the same website, it does slow things down. So as a school we have decided to self-host WordPress. At $30 a month, it’s a bargain, given that speed is remarkably improved.


As with most websites, rather than a finished product, the blog can be constantly updated and refined. Meaningful feedforward results in improved writing, which is the intended goal.

“I reflect and share publicly to engage others and build understanding. This is my blogging practice. What is yours?”

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Professional development, Uncategorized

English Department Professional Development session

At our school we have professional development sessions every second Wednesday morning. Our head of department, Meryl Howell, requested that we each take a session and in this way draw on each others’ strengths and skills. It is a wonderful idea to collaborate in this way, but also quite scary to present to those closest to you in your professional capacity. I’m pleased to say that once I got over the initial nerves, they were a very welcoming audience.

I had recently returned from the Apple Distinguished Educators’ Institute in Berlin so I was brimming with ideas. I kicked the session off some sketchnoting using the app Procreate. Karen Bosch (@karlyb) did a spotlight session on sketch noting and this is a great tool for mind mapping. I like to draw and write as I plan or listen to ideas, as do many students. So this is an app I’d recommend.

Next we looked at Don Goble’s spotlight session where he took Hemingway’s six word story and extended it to a six unique shots film. His students’ work is fantastic and it is wonderful to use as exemplars. I have included some of the resources I got and adapted from Don Goble at the end of this post. (@dgoble2001)

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Image from @dgoble2001

This lesson could be taken a number of ways.

  1. You could first look at Hemingway’s story on a creative writing level. How many interpretations have been suggested for the story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
  2. Next you could look at newspaper headlines where they very often are made up of six words. Since this session I find myself counting the number of words in headlines and invariably come away with the answer six. Those media stories could be a lesson in and of themselves.
  3. Then we spoke about getting students to write six word stories and story board these. The aim is to create a film with only six shots. So each shot has to be powerful to tell the full story.

As a group we decided that this would work with our year 10 students. I will post examples of my students’ projects next term.

Here is a link to the powerpoint I used: 6-word-story


Posted in 05. Design for learning, Professional development

Lifelong Learners

The New Zealand curriculum states as one of its visions that we want our students to be lifelong learners. What about our teachers? Are we modeling ourselves as lifelong learners?

I’ve been speaking to a number of my colleagues and the answer for many is yes. Take my one colleague who, when faced by a year 13 class who seemed reluctant to prepare for their speech, prepared her own speech. She researched her topic and applied the speech techniques. And so the teacher was the first to present her speech, modeling what she expected from her students. Another colleague has joined a band and has undertaken to learn a new instrument. He is, how should I put it, not a spring chicken. (He’s only a few years my senior, but then again, I’m no spring chicken either.) And then of course we have a number of staff doing post graduate papers. I’m happy to say I’ve signed up to do MindLab, based on the recommendation from my colleagues.

As an English teacher I find that, prior to introducing formal writing, I model what I expect from my students by writing an article. I submit my work to Fractus Learning which is an educational blog. Once it has been published, I share it with my students. Besides the idea of modeling what I expect from them, more often than not the subject of my article is my students. So it’s good for them to read about my reflections on what they’ve done and what I’ve learnt from them.

Link to my article here


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So this is a link to my article. My hope is that, through sharing this sort of article with my students, they will see that I am still reflecting on my practice and learning. And for some at least,  instill a love of lifelong learning in them.



Posted in 05. Design for learning

Prefect camp 2016

Having returned from a productive yet exhausting few days away at prefect camp, it is time for some reflection.


1. The location was absolutely great for this type of camp. We had the luxury of being close to civilisation if we had an emergency (which thankfully we didn’t!) But far enough away for the students to really soak up nature at its finest. In addition, the park is a sanctuary so is pest free. Having no where but a gazebo to store food was not an issue. Food needing  refrigeration was dropped off. The weather was beautiful but for next year I’d suggest that ‘skins’ would be a must-wear item of clothing. No amount of sunblock could stop the sunburn, particularly when you do so many water based activities. 

2. Time of year: I missed out on two to three lessons with my classes which I feel I can easily recover, given that all my work is available on line. I’ll spend some time at the start of the week to look for any gaps of knowledge. The prefects will have also lost about two to three lessons per subject. Again, I assume that they can access their work and will need to put some effort in after school hours to recoup the time lost. I will review this with them later on in the week.

3. The stand up paddle boarding from the SUP Shed was a highlight. After some safety instructions and the basic techniques, they set off. After a brief paddle they were all up and even ended with a race. This activity was well worth doing as it catered for everyone, regardless of your fitness or skill set.

4. Master Chef is always an interesting challenge, particularly when cooking under the trees. The winning group stuck to the basics and produced tasty, hot food. 

5. The 10km walk is a tradition and is a good time for house leaders to bond with their new prefects. The views were spectacular, but that could be said for pretty much any camp in NZ. They were able to say their mihimihi, discuss goals for the year and even plan their assembly dance.

 6. Two different sets of beach puzzles revealed the resilience and ‘can do’ attitude of this group. They came to solutions very quickly and worked as a unit. Another hot day with very little shade.

7. We reintroduced the house performances this year. We tried to include activities that would draw on a range of talents. The entertainment was hilarious and the sunset priceless. 


8. Raft auction and race: this was the last activity. I thought the energy levels would be low and that they’d quietly complete the task. Was I wrong! It was the most animated I have seen some of them, bidding for raft items as if their lives depended on it. Even though their rafts looked sturdy, it wasn’t enough to keep them afloat for very long.

9. One of the highlights for some: the solo sleep out. This camp ground was the ideal setting for this. Not out of eye sight for us, although they felt isolated. The ridge where we dropped them afforded students the most magnificent sea views, on both sides for some. The easterlies meant that they fell asleep to a cacophony of bird sounds wafting across from Tiritiri Island. It sounded like a zoo. When I went to collect them the next morning, the chatter was about the magnificent sunrise over the water. And the stars. Some saw a shooting star and also satellites. Having teenagers talk at length about the stars and the view was refreshing.


10. Finally, their downtime was spent under the trees singing to two guitars, two ukuleles and a mini keyboard. They were complimented by members of the public on their excellent behaviour and manners. 

So to sum up: the things I’d  keep would be the above mentioned activities, keep a mixture of activities catering for all talents, and constantly mix the groups. We had some activities with friendship groups, some ‘names out the hat’ groups, number groups and then random selection. The whole aim was to start working as a team rather than as distinct pockets depending on their role for the year. I’d also keep the clean up at school as part of the programme. That’s when energy is at its lowest so you really need all hands on deck.

What I would change is the meeting time at school. Teachers need about an hour to get equipment ready, before students get there to load gear. I’d double the quantity of food. It’s a hungry beast when you add all that physical activity to the mix! We made sun hats compulsory at all times, but in retrospect I should have insisted on ‘skins’ or rash vests for water based activities. I will ask for student feedback and then adjust this reflection if necessary. But as for me, I’m no camper, but I might just be a convert now. 

Posted in 05. Design for learning

Head prefect selection

I have always been in awe of the students that nominate themselves for the head prefect role, because if short listed, they have to pitch a speech to the entire staff and the year 12 cohort. In addition, this has traditionally been done in the library. An intimate venue at best. At worst, students stand toe-to-toe with teachers as they deliver their speeches. 

So this year we transferred the speeches to our auditorium. My thinking was that this would give the students the real feel of an audience. They also had the chance to ‘lean’ on the lectern as they delivered their speech. In addition, I wanted to break the ice and used this video to introduce the candidates. 

We got some laughter from the staff and it did set the students up for some excellent speeches. Eight brilliant candidates who I was very proud of. All of them gained some life skills though the entire prefect selection process.

Posted in 05. Design for learning

Film study: Billy Elliot

This presentation is a lot more content-heavy than I normally like to produce. But there are just so many layers to this film. I feel quite excited about how my students are going to explore and discuss issues raised in this film. In addition, there is so much to discuss in terms of the cinematography. Clever transitions, claustrophobic shots and a brilliant soundtrack. Much of the content will be flipped so that we can get down to the higher order thinking and discussion.

Posted in 05. Design for learning, education

Redefined static images

I’m so impressed with my year 11s and their work on static images. Gone are the days of google images and photocopying. They have created digital images using apps like Paper. They have also googled images and enhanced these in a myriad of ways. Now they are sitting with the digital images in front of them and are creating images using paint and any number of artistic materials. The art HoD Graeme Irving was invited to give some refinements and artistic expertise which we were grateful for. The end product is uncertain, but not one static image from this class will be a regurgitation of previously existing internet images.




Updated post: So impressed with the final product. And after the marking meeting, these guys came away with no less than twenty excellences. Flipping the introduction and having devices led to more time to refine their end product.



This last one was a collage of many faces.